It’s not really a stretch to say that 2020 was one of the most challenging years in living memory for… well, pretty much any of us. But it was also an unprecedented and uniquely difficult year for relationships — for single people and for folks who were coupled up or in poly relationships. People who were single often found themselves feeling locked out of dating. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown meant that a lot of the usual ways of meeting people were off limits, and most traditional dates were either impossible or severely restricted.
Partnered folks, on the other hand often found that the quarantine — especially for couples who were quarantined together 24/7 — put their relationship through levels of stress they had never experienced before. And of course, if you were non-monogamous, it often meant that you could no longer see partners you weren’t living with.
Almost everyone has come out of 2020 feeling isolated, overwhelmed and disconnected. Lots of people felt themselves backsliding in their progress, and others have been wrestling with feelings of futility and hopelessness.
But it doesn’t need to be that way.
Now I’ll freely admit: I’m pretty firmly in the camp of “New Year’s Resolutions are bullshit”. I think the concept of “new year, new me” encourages people to bite off more than they can chew. People set themselves up for failure with implausible expectations and end up making themselves feel worse when they can’t achieve the impossible… before repeating the cycle the next year. 2020 was already a year-long hangover; adding the pressure of trying to make up for a lost year just adds to the potential misery and frustration.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t turn things around and set yourself up for success in 2021. The key to building an amazing life in 2021 is to make the right changes — the changes that will actually give you the greatest overall benefit. So rather than worrying about how to lose 20 pounds or make a point of doing a thousand approaches, let’s talk about the 5 things you can do that will get you ready for the new year… and every year afterwards.
1. Go On A Social Media Diet
The first and most important thing you can do to set yourself up for an incredible year is to ensure that you aren’t poisoning the well before you even start. After all, you can’t improve your life if you believe that change is impossible. Your attitude is your destiny, and when you have a constant negative mindset, you are handicapping yourself from the jump. As the saying goes: the optimist believes he can, the pessimist believes he can’t, and they’re both right. When you believe that you’re a failure and a loser, you are setting yourself up for failure. You’re ensuring that you won’t actually put in more than an token effort, because what’s the point? You won’t take as many chances because you believe you’ve already failed. You’ll miss out on opportunities because you don’t see any point in looking for them.
And on the occasions you do try, you end up doing the bare minimum, just to say that you did it and get people off your back.
Shaking that outlook can be difficult. But one of the quickest and most effective ways to improve your mood and emotional state is to pay attention to what you pay attention to. You want to be more aware of where you spend your time and what you’re feeding your brain. We are social creatures, and our community has a direct effect on our mood and emotional health… in positive and negative ways. Positivity and negativity are contagious; the more positive stimuli you’re exposed to, the better you feel. By the same token, the more negativity you expose yourself to, the worse you feel… and since humanity has an inherent negativity bias, negative experiences, memories and stimuli affects us five times as much as positive ones.
Social media, in particular, is uniquely positioned to affect you in ways that you may not be aware of. There have been multiple studies that have found strong links between social media use, depression, anxiety and loneliness, even increasing the risk of self-harm or suicidal ideation. Similarly, constant exposure to particular ideas leads to what’s known as self-radicalization.
Part of the sudden increase in right-wing violence, the rise in conspiracy theories like QAnon and COVID denialism are directly attributable to Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Parler and the like. The Little Douche Coup on January 6th is in no small part due to the constant reinforcement in Facebook groups, YouTube and elsewhere.
The same is true of incel boards and communities, Manosphere groups and subreddits and others: these create a filtered bubble, where certain ideas or beliefs that are repeated over and over again. Constant exposure to those ideas invokes what’s known as the mere-exposure effect, causing you to give them greater credence. And often those communities have an amplification factor, where the loudest and most extreme views or ideas bubble to the top; those ideas get more attention, which incentivizes others to be even more extreme in order to gain the same attention from others.
This is why it’s important to pay attention to what you pay attention to; the sites you visit, the communities you’re part of, even the videos you watch can all directly affect your mood, your emotions and your self-perception. It’s not just about radicalizing groups like QAnon, but the constant steady drumbeat of negativity and hopelessness. Hearing people constantly talking about how women only want certain kinds of men or how you have to have the Six Sixes to date can and does affect your self-esteem.
And this goes beyond just Reddit or Twitter or Twitch; it also includes seemingly innocuous social media sites and apps like Instagram; the Potemkin lifestyles encouraged by Instagram and the like can increase feelings of inadequacy, isolation and even FOMO by creating unrealistic or even impossible expectations.
It’s all too easy to go from inspiration to desperation; from “I would like to be more like this” to “I must be exactly like this”.
Cutting these out helps create critical space. It gives you room to breathe, room to think and room to let other experiences and perspectives sink in. One of the ways incels have recovered has been leaving their toxic communities behind and focusing on connecting with real people, rather than the cardboard cut-outs the community makes up to rage at.
One of the first things to do for 2021 is take stock of where you spend your time and what you’re feeding your brain. This doesn’t mean that you need to completely abandon all forms of social media… but you should curate it ruthlessly. You want to find your positive community — not the toxic “good vibes only” positivity but communities where people are positive, supportive and helpful. You want the people who are cheering you on to be your best self and giving you the support you need, when you need it. But even taking a break from social media for a month can bring massive dividends to your mood… and your life.
#2. Treat Yourself Like You’ll Treat Your Future Self
One of the mistakes people make all the time when it comes to self-improvement is that they confuse “deprivation” for discipline. They believe that self-denial is a valuable motivating tool… and it isn’t. In fact, more often than not, it’s de-motivating. Rather than encouraging you to improve or strive for more so that you’ll be rewarded, it reinforces the idea that you don’t deserve good things unless you “earn” them… and “earning” them remains increasingly out of reach.
You also set yourself up for failure by making yourself more vulnerable to extinction bursts — moments when your brain sabotages your attempts to deprive yourself by flooding you with urges for the thing you’ve been denying yourself. And when you give in, you treat it like a moral failure that proves you’re weak, as opposed to a momentary setback. Moreover, it creates a mindset that anything good or pleasurable — from food to self-esteem — are only for your future self. The only thing you are allowed to have now is the bare minimum, until you have achieved your ultimate goals. Those goals are often years down the line, if they’re achievable at all.
I see this all the time — people who feel that they can’t (or, more accurately, don’t “deserve to”) dress well or stylishly, to go pursue hobbies or lifestyles they want, or even to go out and simply date. They feel that they have to cross an imaginary finish-line of some sort — whether it be reaching a particular weight, level of social development or a particular income before they are “ready” to pursue their goals. They consistently kick their desires down the road, denying themselves until they’ve caught up with the future version of themselves who will be the person who can wear the clothes they like, talk to women or try to chase the career they want.
And strangely, tomorrow never actually arrives. They end up on a treadmill of their own design, running as fast as they can and never getting anywhere.
In reality, positive reinforcement and self-compassion are far more effective when it comes to making long-term positive changes. By rewarding yourself for your progress and being forgiving of your slip-ups, you build the emotional resilience it takes to persevere when things get tough. By being your own biggest fan and most devoted cheerleader, you’re providing the encouragement that helps motivate you to keep pushing through the hard times. Rewarding your progress not only makes you more mindful of how much you’ve achieved and how far you’ve come, but it reminds you that good things are possible, and that you deserve those good things — especially the things that make you feel amazing.
The thing that people often never realize is how much success builds greater success. When you feel better about yourself, you make it easier to improve. That sense of achievement or simple burst of happiness reminds you that you accomplished this. It encourages you to work harder precisely because of that reward; you want to feel it again and again. Dressing the way you feel looks cool or attractive — even if you aren’t the “right” or “perfect” body type for it, or aren’t the “kind of person who can wear this yet” — makes you feel cool and attractive. Enclothed cognition — adopting the transitive values of what you wear — directly affects our behavior and self-perception.
The same applies to acting with self-confidence, even if you don’t actually feel it. By modeling confident behavior, not only are you teaching yourself that “this is how I behave if I were confident”, but other people respond to your confidence, which helps generate and reinforce that confidence.
This is why “fake it ’til you make it” works; it’s practice. You are practicing being the “You” that you want to be, the “you” that you think is only in the future. By treating yourself now the way that you would treat the future version of you, you are preparing yourself to be that future self. But by acting like it now, you’re bringing them to your present, instead of always defining it as being in some nebulous future.
And yeah, I get it. It feels awkward. It feels fake. You feel like you’re inauthentic, like you’re wearing a costume and people will call you on it any minute now. Think of it like cosplaying, where you’re trying to embody the character you’re portraying. Except in this case… you’re cosplaying as your future, sexy self. By doing so, you’re making them real, manifesting them now and training yourself to be them.
#3. Drink More Water
Yeah, I’ve got nothing clever here. You need to drink more water. Not soda, not coffee, not even sparkling water. Water. Fill a Nalgene or insulated metal bottle with water and keep it at hand to make it easier.
#4. Apply The 80/20 Rule To Your Love Life
One of my personal pet peeves when it comes to dating are the folks who use the Pareto Principle — also known as the 80/20 rule — as a way of explaining people’s dating failures. The most obvious example are the folks who try to apply the 80/20 rule to relationships as though it were biological destiny, insisting that 20% of men date 80% of women or that looks determine 80% of who you can date. Not only is that a misunderstanding of the rule overall, but it’s presuppositions are objectively wrong; if the 80% of women only date 20% of men, humanity would’ve died off before we ever left the Pleistocene epoch.
However, the 80/20 rule does have its uses, especially in your love life. The original conceit of the Pareto Principle is that 80% of results come from 20% of causes; 80% of workplace accidents are due to 20% of workplace hazards, 80% of video store profits come from 20% of the tiles stocked and so on. The idea is that, by prioritizing your focus on that 20%, you affect 80% of the results. This means that you spend less time and energy on other issues that aren’t as impactful or important.
With regards to your love life, most peoples’ issues and sticking points tend to be caused by a relatively small number of issues. The problems that people often face when it comes to relationships — from approach anxiety to finding a compatible long-term partner — are often symptoms of an underlying problem, rather than causes in and of themselves.
Incels are an excellent example of this. Incels have created an entire taxonomy of looks to explain why only “Chad” gets laid and they don’t. This new phrenology would be fascinating from an anthropological standpoint, if it wasn’t coming from a place of hate — both directed inward and outward. But even after spending tens of thousands of dollars on dangerous and painful plastic surgery, they find that they still can’t connect with women, never mind get dates or sex. This is because they choose to blame their looks for their lack of success, rather than examining their behavior and attitudes. All of their problems stem from their loneliness, anger, bitterness and hatred, rather than having the wrong cranial ridge or jawline-to-forehead ratio.
The incels who walk away from the online communities tend to find success, not because they’ve magically become Chads, but because they’re no longer neck deep in a community that stokes that hatred.
The same is true for most people who struggle with dating. More often than not, their sticking points stem from issues of self-esteem or internal fears, rather than some objective flaw. It’s easier to blame not being six feet tall than it is to admit that they don’t feel deserving of love or attention.
To pull from my own life: my ADHD diagnosis was a prime example. Many of the things I struggled with in life, including dating and relationships were, in fact, symptoms of having had ADHD for most of my life. Getting that diagnosis was, in a very real way, like finding the Rosetta Stone. It didn’t fix everything, and it certainly wasn’t an instant cure. But it shone a light on how many patterns I had overlearned because of an underlying issue that I never knew was there.
However, it’s worth noting that sometimes identifying the 20% that could be causing 80% of your issues means recognizing that the root cause could stem from not accepting yourself. Many times, the underlying issue is that they’re trying to change something in themselves that doesn’t need to be changed. Whether it’s somebody who doesn’t realize that they’re asexual but keeps forcing themselves into sexual relationships, someone who keeps making monogamous commitments when they can’t be monogamous, or even simply trying to date people they “should” be attracted to (but aren’t), many people struggle with simply accepting themselves for who they are. They’re functionally trying to squeeze their feet into shoes that don’t fit and wondering why their feet hurt all the time.
Worse, they may tell themselves that the pain is part of the process, rather than an indicator that these are the wrong fit for them.
To be sure: identifying root causes can be hard, incredibly so, at times. It requires a willingness to question your assumptions about the world, women and yourself. You have to be willing to be wrong about things you believe, things that you have sometimes believed for years or decades. And at times, it can require working with others to root them out, whether coaches, counselors or doctors. But by addressing underlying causes — finding the 20% that is causing the 80% of hardships — you can utterly transform your life.
#5. Practice Gratitude
Speaking of transforming your life…
Practicing gratitude comes up frequently here, and for good reason: gratitude is transformative. Scientists have found that gratitude and happiness are intrinsically tied together. People who are more mindful of their lives and who practice and express gratitude to others are far happier than those who don’t. They have stronger and closer relationships with their friends, they are seen as being warmer and more charismatic and have more personal satisfaction in their lives overall. This is in no small part because practicing gratitude helps you be more mindful of what you already have. Rather than focusing on scarcity or potential loss, it makes you more aware of the things you do have.
Practicing gratitude means taking a moment to pause and take honest stock of your life. It means, rather than narrowing your focus on the things you want and don’t have, you actually expand your attention and take everything in. It’s easy to lose track of all the good in your life when your attention is focused elsewhere. We end up taking our friends for granted, rather than seeing how much they bring to our lives. We lose track of how lucky we actually are, how much good there actually is in the world. Gratitude means recognizing this and choosing to acknowledge it, rather than letting negativity overwhelm it through sheer weight.
Similarly, people who practice gratitude are more aware of the world around them. Knowing what you have in your life — from your friends, to your health, to your career — means that not only can you appreciate them, but you can use them more effectively. It means you’re more open to possibility, to taking full advantage of opportunities when they come your way. Expressing gratitude to others, your friends, your family, your coworkers, strengthens your relationships, deepens those connections and can help turn casual acquaintances to life-long friends.
Gratitude helps make it possible for you to endure the hard times, to stay strong when things seem at their worst. When life is dark — and it can get pretty damn dark, especially right now — being grateful for the things you have in your life helps remind you of the goodness and beauty that’s still there. It helps give you the strength to hold on, comfort in times of strife, and motivate you to work harder to make things better.
And just as importantly, practicing gratitude helps you learn to simply be enough. By being more mindful of all the good in your life, coming to it from a place of abundance, you recognize just how much you have to offer. Gratitude helps you realize that you’re more than your needs or your desires. It eases that void that you try to fill through external validation, while helping you direct your focus to your genuine needs, instead of shallow wants.
Choosing to focus on the positive doesn’t mean being a naive Pollyanna or unrealistic Pangloss, any more than negativity or cynicism is the same as intelligence or realism. It’s simply choosing to be more aware of the world as it actually is, instead of letting your negativity bias define it for you. You aren’t ignoring the very real troubles in the world; you simply aren’t adding to them to your life, unnecessarily.
So every day, pick one thing to be grateful for. Pick one friend or family member and express your appreciation for them and the goodness they bring to your life. The more you can appreciate what you have, the stronger, happier and more confident you will be overall. And that will set you up for having an amazing life this year… and every year afterwards.